Pederal Design Library 11
A series presenting information and ideas
related to federal design
National Endowment for the Ai
Digitized by the Internet Archive
Federal Design Library
A series presenting information and ideas
related to federal design
Grids: Their meaning and use for federal designers
Based on a presentation to the Second Studio Seminar for
Federal Graphic Designers, November 10, 1976
National Endowment for the Arts
The Federal Design Improvement Program,
National Endowment for the Arts, recom-
mends the grid as a device that can save the
government time and money and take the
guesswork out of graphic communication. It
has been used successfully for many years in
the commercial sector and is fast becoming a
design resource throughout government.
What is a grid? The NASA standards manual
defines it as "a predetermined understructure
that the designer can employ to give the publi-
cation cohesive style and character. It is a
great organizer of material . . . and will save
countless manhours in execution."
Besides NASA, scores of Federal agencies
have established the grid as a framework for
their overall communication systems.
Do grids restrict designers? No. On the con-
trary, they are considered as an aid to the
creative process. The Labor Department
standards manual states: "The grid system ii
not intended to restrict design creativity.
Rather, the various grids will assist the de-
signer in organizing the visual information in
the most effective manner."
About the Author
Massimo Vignelli was born in Milan in 1931
and studied at Brera Academy of Art, Milan,
and the School of Architecture of the
University of Venice.
He has been a member of the Italian
Association for Industrial Design (ADI) since
its founding in 1 956 and served on its Board
of Directors from 1 960 to 1 964.
In 1967 he was elected a member of the
Alliance Graphique Internationale.
From 1961 to 1965 he was a member of the
Study Group of the International Council of
Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID); in
1976/77 he was President of the American
Institute of Graphic Arts and Vice President
of the Architectural League of New York
Currently he is a Trustee of the Institute for
Architecture and Urban Studies.
Mr. Vignelli has taught at the Institute of
Design of the Illinois Institute of Technology,
Chicago (1958-1959), and the Design
Schools of Milan (1960-1964) and Venice
(1962-1964), the School of Architecture of
Columbia University, New York (1967-1968),
and the Philadelphia College of Art (1969),
and he has been Andrew Mellon visiting
professor at Cooper Union in New York.
His awards include the Towie Silversmiths
Fellowship for product design (1957), the
Compasso d'Oro for product design (1964),
and the Grand Prix Triennale di Milano for
graphic design (1964).
Examples of his graphic and product design
are in the permanent collection of the
Museum of Modern Art, New York. A
traveling exhibition of his work has been
organized by the Museum.
In 1960, Mr. and Mrs. Vignelli established the
Massimo and Leila Vignelli Office of Design
and Architecture in Milan, as consultant
designers for graphics, products, furniture
and interiors for major European companies
Mr. Vignelli's work is represented in
numerous significant design magazines and
books in the United States and abroad.
In 1965, he cofounded Unimark International,
a corporation for Design and Marketing, of
which he was a Director and Senior Vice
President for Design.
Since 1971 , he has been President of
Vignelli Associates, New York, with liaison
offices in Paris and Milan. The firm is
currently involved in design of corporate
graphics, publications, architectural and
transportation graphics, packaging, exhibition
interiors, furniture and products for both
American and European companies.
Mr. and Mrs. Vignelli were awarded the 1973
Industrial Arts Medal by the American
Institute of Architects.
All the work I do is based on grids. I can't
design anything without a grid. I am so
accustomed to using a grid that I use it for
everything, even for stationery. The grid
provides the tool for quick solutions. Without
a grid I'm desperate; I have no starting point.
With a grid I can do a 150-page book in one
day— layout, sketching, every picture in it;
without sketching I can do a 300-page book
in one day. Without the grid I couldn't do it.
A grid is nothing more than a tool. Once
accustomed to using that tool, a designer
can use it very profitably. I know that
particularly in this country, where people are
not trained to use grids, there is a certain
amount of fear about this tool and how to use
it. Generally speaking the grid is a great help
not only for qualified super-professionals, but
for anyone just out of school. It's much easier
to arrive at a good, civilized, professional
design with a grid than without a grid. The
grid makes the designer the master of his
own tools, which are defined for each new
project. It's a great thing. The designer can
choose the most appropriate grid for the job
or work with a grid that is already
established, knowing that it has been
devised to cover certain contingencies, a
certain range of problems. That grid can be
used appropriately in the way that best fits
one's own taste.
One of the first considerations in establishing
a grid is the nature of the material that must
be designed. In establishing the grid, the
designer must know whether the material will
be text only or heavily illustrated. In each
case the grid must be designed in a specific
way. If the material is mostly text, the grid will
be based on picas; if the material is mostly
photographic, it will be organized in inches.
There is still this tremendous nonsense that
two major areas in the preparation of printed
matter are working with a completely
different set of standards: Photographers,
engravers, binders all work with inches;
printers work with picas. It doesn't make any
sense, but that's the way it is for the time
The grid design must be related to the size of
the material. If the material is mostly
photographic, and the photographs are
mostly rectangular, obviously the grid design
will not be based on squares, because then
every page will be a problem. A rectangular
photograph will probably dictate a
rectangular grid. If most of the material is
square, then the grid will have to be square.
If the photographs are both rectangular and
square, the grid must be a grid for all
seasons; it must represent a compromise.
The next decision is the number of columns.
A grid of four columns gives great flexibility.
For instance, there can be two columns each
two modules wide, or there can be one
column for illustration and then three
columns for text. There can be any number
of variations of that kind.
Then an area is assigned for headlines. The
headline can be placed with a large body of
text, leaving a column of space perhaps for
photographs. Placement will vary from job to
job, from assignment to assignment, from
need to need. The smaller the grid — ^that is,
the more modules there are in the grid — the
greater the designer's freedom. The larger
the module of the grid, the less the freedom.
If the grid is very small, however — like graph
paper — it becomes so flexible that the
advantage is lost. Too much freedom is no
order, and the opposite is just as bad.
When the project is completely designed,
there is thus a sense of recurrence, of unity
throughout. There is a sense that the book
has been designed rather than piled up; it
has been woven rather than just put
Change for the better with
About ten years ago we were asked by the
Alcoa Company to put some order into its
advertising. A company of that size used
(and is still using) five or six different
agencies, among them some of the best
agencies in the country. Although each
agency was doing the best it could, no Alcoa
image emerged from the advertising. It
lacked unity. The advertising had a lot of
diversity but no identity. One of the major
issues in the design profession is to provide
a subtle balance between identity and
The first thing we did was to provide Alcoa
with a set of grids and standards. We
prepared a whole booklet for the art directors
of the different agencies. In the booklet they
could find a grid to fit each particular
Then we coordinated the three elements, this
trinity Alcoa had: the logo (Alcoa), the
trademark, and the slogan. The slogan
changes every few years; at that time it was
"Change for the better with Alcoa
Aluminum." We established a relationship
between these elements.
The designer Saul Bass created the Alcoa
logo and prepared a corporate identity
manual in which he developed many
relationships between the trademark and the
logo. The result of this was that the
advertising agency used the trademark in
relation to the logo in many different ways
and thus diluted the effectiveness of that
relationship. It's rather important that certain
elements, such as trademarks and logos
(although I don't believe too much in
trademarks or logotypes), be used in a
consistent and recurrent manner. Again,
grids will help. Grids are, as I said, nothing
but a tool. Establishing a relationship
between these elements becomes a tool.
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We developed a grid for the typical Alcoa
magazine advertising page. There is a
position for the signature, the slogan, and the
trademark and logotype; then there is the
area for the copy and the area for illustration.
We showed all kinds of possibilities in the
booklet. For instance, we indicated that the
headlines would be in the area delineated by
the bold line and the copy in the area marked
by the thin line. Alternatively, there could be
a very large title, the signature could be
moved from top to bottom, or the bottom
area could be used for a spread. There is
this freedom within the grid.
Again, if more area is needed for illustration,
there is a range of alternative arrangements
to choose among. The booklet we prepared
shows literally hundreds of different
possibilities. A choice of any one of these
combinations puts the design consistently
into a program.
haulers carry up to 500
extra Ions per shift.
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We have some examples of the ads before
and after. We took some ads as they were
done by one of Alcoa's agencies. The
signature was buried at the bottom of the
text. The text was printed in a very large size
type, which is unnecessary, because a
magazine is read at a distance of about a
foot, at the most a foot and a half, depending
on the size of the type, but it doesn't need a
type so large. That kind of size is comparable
to an emotional value. It's like turning on the
loudspeaker. We thought at the time that
there was no need for Alcoa to resort to this
kind of advertising technique; it could use a
different approach. We suggested a certain
size for headlines, a certain size for copy,
and so forth. One thing we didn't like and
wanted them to keep away from was faddish
handling of typography in their ads. Within a
program of this kind, which it was our task to
coordinate, it becomes important to provide
tools and means to keep the image of this
company above and beyond any kind of fad.
In our approach the concept of identification
came first. We were much more interested in
letting the reader know first that it was an
Alcoa ad and then leading the reader into the
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We also showed alternative arrangements to
satisfy Alcoa's different needs. Sometimes
the designers can work out the ad using only
some text and the signature, or they can use
text, the signature, and illustration.
Now let's take a look at the beginning of the
program, starting with an ad done by one of
Alcoa's agencies. With few exceptions, such
as the indentation in the copy, the ad could
have been done by us. In a sense this is
proof that a program set up properly will yield
good results no matter who is working with it.
This is an extremely important detail,
particularly at the level at which a new
program is being set up. There is no way to
know who will be implementing the program
in the future, but there should be some
assurance that the original good program will
not be wasted by temperamental designers
who are more interested in expressing
themselves than in solving the problem with
which they must deal.
Naturally, when we started to do this, there
was a tremendous reaction among the
agency people. The agency people had
never worked with grids before. All the art
directors had exactly the opposite kind of
background. One art director resigned from
the account because he said he didn't want
to work with the grids. He felt that the grids
were a tremendous restraint.
Other people, however, began to use them.
At the beginning I went to Pittsburgh about
once every month or two for training
sessions with the art directors on the use of
this tool. Then I didn't go there for some time,
and then I went once a year. The intriguing
thing was that after a year I walked into one
of the agencies, and while I was waiting I
looked around and discovered they were
using grids, the same kind of grids, for other
clients. They had become so accustomed to
working with grids, they finally understood
their value, and they were using them
naturally. Grids are a way of life, so to speak.
Another ad done — again, I don't know by
whom — conforms exactly to the format
established, and I think it still has a nice
advertising impact. In other spreads we can
also see the same format. These examples
show the possibility of using any kind of
This becomes particularly interesting in light
of today's developments. I think one of the
greatest changes between the 1 960s and the
1970s is what I call pluralism. By that I mean,
in the last five or six years we have been
through an age of permissiveness that has
freed us from the previous constraint of using
only one kind of visual language. I remember
when things had to be designed in a Swiss
style or the designer was pretty much dead
or nonexistent, or an irrelevant person.
I think the greatest thing right now is that
designers can design anything the way they
want it, the way they feel is most appropriate,
and they have all the tools. Illustration is
terrific today, photography has achieved
great heights, and design can master all
things at the same time.
The concept of pluralism as it exists today is
a very healthy and very helpful attitude, but it
can only work if it is based on solid discipline.
With that kind of structural discipline in
graphic design, anything is possible; without
jt there is chaos.
In another example we see an illustration of
a certain kind, probably not so good as the
other one but still efficient. I don't know who
did it. It's the greatest satisfaction to see that
this program has been very well
implemented over the years. It's now in its
tenth year, and they're still using it, with
some exceptions here and there.
That again is part of what I suggested to
them. I once had a meeting in Pittsburgh with
all the art directors from all the agencies, and
they asked if they always had to use the
grids. I told them to be careful with the grid or
they would find themselves trapped with it.
The message would be sacrificed to the grid
The grid is like a cage in which there is a lion
(the message) and a lion tamer (the
designer). If the tamer is good, he can
master the lion long enough, but eventually,
in order to survive, even the best tamer must
get out of the cage or the lion will eat him up.
If the grid is used too long — when it's not
appropriate, when it's not necessary, or
when it's done purely mechanically — then the
grid is going to bite; it's going to interfere with
communicating the message. If the designer
knows when it's time to go in and out of the
cage — when it's time to use the grid or to
leave it behind — ^then the grid really helps
and is a marvelous tool to work with.
New York Botanical Garden
We were asked by the New York Botanical
Garden to develop a corporate identity. This
was a particularly interesting assignment,
because the New York Botanical Garden is a
glorious institution with a great library; it's a
nonprofit organization, for which I have a
penchant. There is a great sense of
satisfaction in working for a nonprofit
organization that working for a profitmaking
organization never gives.
We developed a minimanual of graphics
standards for the Botanical Garden. In the
1960s, this manual would probably have
been more than a hundred pages, telling us
everything. A minimanual for a nonprofit
organization such as the Botanical Garden
gives a tremendous opportunity to get down
to the bones, to give the essential
information and skip all the superfluities.
One of the first things we did for the
iilii H Botanical Garden was to standardize paper
sizes. Before we made our
recommendations, they used all kinds of
sizes, which resulted in tremendous waste.
There's no point in using different sizes just
because different jobs seem to call for
different sizes. Taking into consideration a
long-range program, consistency, filing,
retrieving the information, and saving money,
standardization is a phmary concern.
Standardization makes even more sense for
people involved with the government.
Sooner or later, the United States will also go
to a metric system. Then there will be about
six months or a year of total disaster. During
that time we will never know how many
centimeters equal an inch and what fraction
of an inch equals a centimeter. But at the
end, we will find out that it's all for the better,
and we will have conformed to the
international sizes, which happen to be much
nicer. The basic stationety size in America is
8y2 by 1 1 inches. The international size is
81/4 by 11 11/1 6, and that dimension is a
fabulous proportion: It's the golden
One of the first things we did for the
Botanical Garden, of course, was to
standardize the paper sizes for all its printed
matter into the international size. So by the
time these sizes are adopted nationally, the
Botanical Garden will already be using them.
Since it's a scientific institution after all, the
directors really welcomed the idea of
conforming to the international standards.
The manual illustrates the different sizes, thd
way they work in relation to each other, and
some of the basic folds.
The Botanical Garden's needs are very
variable. Sometimes the photographs used
are 8 X 1 and sometimes 24 x 36.
Sometimes the photographs are square,
such as Rolleiflex prints. Most of the material
falls into one of these categories, so there is
Jess cropping to do. This saves time, and it
saves the photographer anger, too.
One of the items of the standardization
program is the typeface to be used. It's much
easier to set standards for items like that
than change all the time. The choice of a
typeface should be based not only on
graphic or aesthetic considerations, but also
on economic considerations.
We have some examples of Times Roman in
different combinations of roman, italic, and
bold, juxtaposed against typewriter type
Now typewriter type— particularly for a
nonprofit organization— could substitute
beautifully as a typeface, particularly If there
IS an established set of standards. The text is
typed on the typewriter (which is just a
desk-top typesetting machine, FOR FREE)
then reduced either by Xerox or by photostat
to a conventional book point size. Reduced
to eight or nine points, as it would be for a
book, a magazine, or a newspaper,
typewritten copy doesn't look like
correspondence anymore; it begins to look
like a typeface. As a matter of fact, it's even
better than a typeface, because it doesn't
have any particular emotional value attached
The other great aspect of typewriter type is
that It stresses the structural element of
design. We didn't really wake up one
morning to the realization that typewriter type
had a wonderful structure. After a few years
of using the typewriter as an economical
means of typesetting, we came to perceive
that typographic design is basically structural
and not emotional. The manual itself, by the
way, uses typewriter type for the text.
The Botanical Garden's stationery is also
organized with a grid, a three-column grid.
The first column has the initials, the second
and third have the signature of the New York
Botanical Garden. The address and
message appear from the fold down, with the
symbol at the bottom of the second column.
This is a very clear approach. By shifting the
text to the two right-hand columns, a sense
of order and also a sense of identification are
created that are stronger than those created
by the usual inch-and-a-half or two-inch
The Botanical Garden, like all institutions,
has all kinds of forms. We designed a grid for
all the forms based on typewriter spacing.
There is vertical spacing and a four-pica
horizontal modulation. This gives a vertical
reference that relates to the basic
three-column structure of the grid.
We also established certain criteria for thick
and thin lines to separate the text within a
form. Everything else is typewritten, reduced,
and placed in position, so it can readily be
filled in either by hand or by typewriter.
The directory is also done on a typewriter so
that it can be changed without crying over
the cost of resetting all the type. The
typewriter is used for all the message parts
Type is used, however, for identification
elements that relate to the overall institutiona
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The Botanical Garden awards diplomas for i
courses it offers. The design of the diploma •
is all celebration.
We also designed a stationery variation for
other activities within the Botanical Garden
that can have their own identification.
We decided to use the three-column grid for
the newsletter and the magazine, also. We
can see the different layout possibilities in
these applications. Everything is much more
disciplined. There is a space at the top for
running titles, for headlines, and for
everything else. The grid helps to position
things. If these things had to be laid out
without a grid, it would be really difficult to
know where to position them. This kind of
tool provides a frame of reference, a
We did some booklets for the Botanical
Garden that also follow the standards — all
typewriter inside, with press type for the
outside. This is another project that can be
We designed a grid for posters, allocating
space for illustrations, space for text, and
space for identification. We provided an
alternative format to give flexibility. We
showed one poster in the manual as an
application of the way this goes together.
And, finally, we worked on signage. We used
the same design concept, more or less, for
identification of the plants throughout the
garden and for signage throughout the
offices and public areas of the museum.
Fort Worth Art Museum
Another project was the graphics for the Fort
Worth Art Museum. Every year the museum
chooses a different designer for its graphics
so that it can build up a collection of different
approaches. In 1976, Vignelli Associates was
chosen to do the graphics.
First we selected a typeface, in this case
Century, which I happen to like very much.
Century is a rather ambiguous typeface. It's
a classic type, but at the same time it's not. It
was designed in 1894 for Century magazine,
so it's eighty-four years old, but it's still good.
The only problem with this type is that it has
been made by many different foundries and
is very inconsistent in its cut, so it is
particularly difficult to find the right one.
While Century Expanded, the type we chose,
is beautiful. Century Schoolbook seems to
lack completely the flare and the grace of
Century Expanded. Century Schoolbook is
bold and spiritless. Century Expanded has
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For all the Fort Worth Art Museum
publications, including the monthly calendar
and all the stationery, we established a
format using a big black band. This happens
to be a tool I use very often. Then on the
calendar there are other black bands with the
days in reverse, and there is an area for
Again, this is done with the discipline of a
grid. There is space for ten lines — one line
for the title, a one-line space, then another
eight lines for text.
The back of the calendar has one event, and
that in itself provides a kind of layout. Every
month we change the color of the calendar.
The design change is provided by the shifting
of the events themselves. Again, identity is
established by the format, and diversity is
established by the events themselves.
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So we can see again how nicely everything
works out when a grid has been set up in '
relation to the fold. We keep designing and |
forgetting how things should be folded. Whei
a design sticks to the grid, and the fold is
already incorporated in the grid, by the time
the thing is folded it begins to be music;
everything goes together beautifully.
These are small details. We are talking shop
not great philosophy. But these little details j
do portray a philosophy, an attitude toward i
communication, and an attitude toward ^
design and its integrity.
We also designed some posters for the
museum's major events. Again, the big blac
band, the type and four-column basic
structure, and the illustration playing free. It
doesn't have to fit the grid, because
otherwise it would be too monotonous. The
grid can't be seen, but it's there. That's the
beauty of the grid. When it can be seen, it's
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One of the posters was about a permanent
collection of paintings. We didn't want to
show all the paintings, but we did use all the
names of the artists, and we used different
colors for the names to make a painting out
of the poster. We did a lot of these posters
with the grid. Where I would have put this
type without the grid, I really don't know.
TIE FOfn^ WOKm ART MUSEUM
Another example of inexpensive graphics, as
I like to call them, is a Fort Worth Art
Museum publication that is all done on the
typewriter. It is typewhter type reduced, as
we discussed earlier. This publication could
be a real magazine, judged on its
appearance. It's printed on newsprint and in
the same fashion as a newspaper, so it has a
margin, because we cannot have bleeds.
The grid is three columns across and four
modules in height. With the grid to help in
filling in the spaces, everything can be
related — rather than putting some things
another quarter of an inch higher or
lower — and then the whole thing begins to
The typewriter is just as good as anything
else for setting type. From a distance
typewriter type looks like any typeface. If that
appearance is satisfactory, right away $1 ,000
is saved by not setting type.
12 3 4
SAINT PETERS CHURCH
Other Inexpensive Projects
Another inexpensive project we did was the
graphics for St. Peter's Church in New York
(for which we are also doing the interiors).
We chose kraft paper in a size that fits a
multilith. In this way we demonstrate how an
institution with limited finances can approach
an identification program using the most
inexpensive production techniques, such as
Multilith accepts paper sizes up to &V2 by 17
inches. We took that size as a starting point
and began to build the whole system of
paper sizes and formats for different
purposes, just as we did in the Botanical
Garden manual. The only difference was tha'
instead of doing it in the abstract, in terms of
international standards as we did before, in
this case we did it in terms of feasibility. So
we developed a set of standards appropriate
to their use and to the equipment available.
There's no real reason why they should use
much more expensive ways of printing when
they can use multilith or even duplicator. I
don't think a designer should feel restrained
by designing projects to be reproduced by a
duplicator. It's not what is done but how it is
done that is really the soul of the design
Another example of an inexpensive design is
the church newspaper. Again, it is all done
on the typewriter, either blown up or reduced
and it looks like the real thing. It doesn't look
like a cheap, homemade thing; it looks like a
professional newspaper. It could be the New
York Times in a sense.
The Architectural League of NewY)rk
We also designed some graphics for the
Architectural League in New York. Once
again we used kraft paper. The stationery
has three folds and no horizontal grid. We
used only the folds working as a grid. The
stationery can also be used in the other
direction, depending on the kind of
All our work for the Architectural League
relied on kraft paper, the typewriter, and the
logo in Garamond as identification. For
diversity we could change color and design
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We also designed some invitations for a
dinner for the designers Charles and Ray
Eames. The invitations were printed on
different colors of tissue paper and were in
all the glasses, so that the whole thing was
colorful on all the tables, reflecting the
Barnes's joyful approach to design.
Now let's look at a poster for the Beaux Arts
tour of buildings in New York. It's a
marvelous photograph by the architectural
photographer Cervin Robinson of the
Customs House in New York. On the back of
it, again in typewriter type, there are
descriptions of every building and tour, street
by street, in that particular area.
THE ARCHITECTURAL LEAGUE OF NEW VDRK BEAUX ARTS TOUR
I said before that the identity of the League
was maintained by the consistent use of
Garamond and typewriter type. But I also
said before that the lion tamer must not stay
in the cage too long, or the lion will bite.
When we had to do an Architectural League
poster dedicated to Art Deco, we changed
the type. We used Futura type, which is
much more appropriate in that particular
case. This is exactly the kind of freedom we
always have. In one case we changed the
typeface, but in the next case we went back
to the regular setup. Doing that gains
effectiveness and recognition at the same
MOORE COLLEGE OF ART
The Moore College of Art in Philadelphia
asked Vignelli Associates to create a design
identity program. We told them to use
typewriter type, because they had limited
funds, but to print everything they did in
red — exclusively in red. So their stationery
has a typewriter logo that is printed, and then
the text is typewritten in color using a red
ribbon. Everything begins to look unified; it
doesn't look poor anymore.
We designed the invitation cards for their
exhibitions. All one color, all red, and that's it.
We have some sketches of the presentation
we made to them. All the college's posters
were different sizes, which is a great waste
of money. That is why I insist on
standardizing format and sizes. So we
suggested using one size. That size
becomes an announcement. The recurrence
of the size becomes an identification
MOORE COLLEGE OF ART
MOORE COT,T,F,GE OF ART
5 f^ ^-^i^M^
In another two-column treatment the
expression is very different. One is very
quiet, very informative; the other is another
kind of event, a one-person show.
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the typewriter could also be enlarged
Although we used this program for all the
Moore College publications, the grid for the
catalogs was a slightly different proposition.
Catalogs of paintings of course include
illustrations of all sizes. A painting cannot be
cropped just to fit the grid, but there must be
a starting point. In one case, for instance, we
centered all the paintings. That means that
we used these two axes of symmetry for the
whole thing, but the copy starts on the
position indicated by the grid. Any painting
could be shifted wherever necessary, but the
type would return to the same position.
We worked out still another grid for the
Moore College alumni journal.
For the last ten years Vignelli Associates has
designed all the graphics for Knoll
International. In the 1960s we used a very
slick image. All Helvetica throughout, very
businesslike. We wanted to represent the
advance management, in a sense, the
modern top management; we wanted to
illuminate management, just as a large
corporate headquarters is set off when it
uses good contemporary architecture.
So the image of Knoll during the 1960s was
very corporate. Things have changed a lot in
our society since the 1960s, so now, in the
1 970s, we thought we should change the
accent in our communication. We developed
the idea of not doing slick brochures
anymore but instead doing something like a
tabloid. This reflects the influence from the
underground press filtering up to the
We decided to use a tabloid, which is like a
small newspaper printed on newsprint, set
with the typewriter, and using photolettering
for the headlines. We had the same grid for
all the uses in this tabloid.
For the basic structure of the cover we have
a black band at the top, holding everything,
with photolettering and the Knoll logo.
We did the layout on a grid of two-column
width, the text all typewritten and reduced.
Again I stress the fact that the cost of
production using the typewriter instead of
typesetting is very little. The cost of a
newspaper like this, of a tabloid like this, is
something like fifteen or twenty cents as
opposed to a dollar for a typeset brochure.
So it is easy to see that many more people
can be reached. Of course, on the other side
the brochure, being slick and expensive, will
probably be kept, while the newspaper has
the tendency to be thrown away. So there
are pluses and minuses on that.
The funny thing, however, is that, since this
goes to the architectural community, when
the people receiving it understood that the
paper was a recurring thing, they began
keeping it, they put on the folder so they
could keep the information and retrieve it.
Another tabloid on furniture designed by the
designer Otto Zapf used four colors on the
front and back, so we also used color for the
type. The use of color in the typography
helps to take away from the boredom.
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When we designed for the residential area of
Knoll, we went away from Helvetica and
used instead a Bodoni, which I redesigned
(with apologies to my countrymen). I felt that
the Bodoni needed revision, because our
taste for type has completely changed. The
advent of Helvetica completely changed our
graphic perceptions and our taste for type. In
Helvetica the height of the capital letters is
much shorter in relation to the height of the
lower-case letters than in any other classic
typeface, and the possibility of making the
type tighter has also by now become a part
of our perception. So we took Bodoni Bold
and used a smaller upper case with a larger
lower case — for instance, a 60-point upper
case and a 72-point lower case. I also made
other height adjustments to reduce the height
of the type.
We did another tabloid for a line of furniture
designed by an Italian designer, Gae Aulenti.
It seemed to me a good idea to go to
Vicenza, near Venice in Italy, to photograph
this line in a villa designed by the sixteenth
century Italian architect Andrea Palladio. I
remembered that the villa had frescoes that
extended down to the floor. What I wanted to
do was to fill these pictures and create an
impression so unusual that it would be
retained as the image. When we think of the
Barcelona chair, we always think of Mies van
der Rohe's beautiful Barcelona pavilion; that
is the image that has stuck in our minds.
What I wanted to do in this case was to put
this line of furniture in a surrounding of
classicism, elegance, and value that would
be associated with the furniture. I didn't want
to have any people in the picture; at the
same time I did want people in the picture.
We had a lot of fun there. We went to the
baker and invited him to the villa. I showed
him a particular bread that was in the fresco
and asked if he could make the same kind
again. So it was kind of fun.
We arranged the catalog to show details of
the furniture on one side and then the exact
descriptions of the things on the other side,
so all the necessary information is available.
An emotional level on one side and the
objective value level on the other side.
0.; In government agencies there is a lot of
copy change. I'd like to know how much
control you demand over the size of the
copy once you start into the project.
A.: Some time ago we designed a
newspaper, one of the very few that I know
had been designed with grids. The
newspaper had a certain number of modules.
Every module contained so many words per
line and so many words per module. Let's
say for the sake of simplicity that each
module was 1 00 words. The people on the
editorial staff automatically knew that they
had to write in modules of 100. So the editor
would tell a reporter to write 300 words, or
500 words, or 1 ,800 words in an article.
What that means in terms of layout is that if
there are, let's say, 1 ,200 words, then there
are 12 modules. With twelve modules, the
text can be organized into two columns of six
modules each, or four columns of three
modules each, or three columns of four
So this system provides great freedom in
setting up a page layout within the time
framework typical of newspapers. Obviously,
discipline that is imposed on the designer
must be imposed on the editors. If a grid
system is set up, and it requires so many
words per module, the copywriter must stick
to it. The other thing is, if there is a good
relationship between the people putting the
publication together and the people writing,
the coordinator can ask the writer to cut two
or three lines here and there, and the writer
will agree. There should be this kind of
Use of grids, of course, trains the mind to
think in terms of modules, which are the
greatest thing in terms of controlling space.
Two thousand years ago the Roman
architect Marcus Vitruvius used nothing but
modules; Palladio used nothing but modules;
the French architect Le Corbusier used
nothing but modules, not to mention Mies
van der Rohe, who did nothing but work with
modules. It is in the great tradition of
controlling space to work with modules. It is
in the great tradition of mess not to do it.
0.; Why don't you tell us how you
redesigned the Senate papers?
A.: The design of the book as it was before
was very traditional, nothing changed since it
was originally designed. I was in Paris
recently and I was looking at some
documents, some books published in 1847.
They were exactly like the Senate
papers — slightly better, as a matter of
fact — but I was really shocked when I saw
that these books had the date 1 847. That's
really exactly what the Senate papers looked
like. The design didn't look bad just because
it was old — that, if anything, would have beer
good. It looked bad because it had been
completely taken apart over time by a series
of unrelated interventions, none of which
were guided by an overall structure.
One bad characteristic was the habit of
indentations ad infinitum. Of course they ate
up the whole column. As working tools, these
papers had no space for writing notes. And
of course anyone working with these
documents must be able to make notes on
them. After all, they aren't novels that one
sits down and reads from the beginning to
the end. These are legal matters.
Our first concern was to provide a structure,
and we did a grid that related to the point
size of the type. We thought the type used on
this publication was good enough; it gave a
certain sense that it was a government
paper. I cannot see a publication like this
done either in Garamond, which would be
too literary, or in Helvetica, which would be
too technical. Furthermore, the existing type
had a nice continuity with the past. So I
thought we could keep the type and still
achieve a design that is contemporary
because it is structured.
For the cover design we simply projected
from the existing structure. On the inside, wel
provided the extra space that was needed for
making marginal notes without changing the
number of words on the page. The new
format, with wide inside margins, also made
it easier to read, because the binding
generally is done with staples, so the book
really cannot be opened all the way, and the
text tends to disappear into the gutter.
I and Election
Nov«inb«r2. 1976-Gener»l Electic
December 13, 1976-Dale of meeli
January 6, 1977 -Counting of elect
I. Presidential Prefere
Fib. 24 Dec. 26 New Hampihire
1I„.2 J.„.2 M„.„hu.e«..
M«.! Feb. 10 Vermont.
Mt. 16 De.. 29 im„o,..
M„.23 Feb. 3 North C.rol.n^
M.,4 M^.6 Dl..r,ct of Columbia.
M.,4 Feb 10 Georgia
l.y« M.r,.6 Indian..
! ay 11 Mar. 12 Nebraak..
1 ay 11 Feb 7 We.t Virptiia
M.;.8 M.r26 Maryland
Ma, 18 Mar 19 Michigan
May 26 Apr .0 KentuoUy
May 26 Apr 25 Nevada
May 26 Apr 6 Arkan.a,
Ju„.l Apr 16 Sooth Dakota.
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Another thing we did was to apply much
more restraint in terms of typography. We
suggested that they use certain type sizes for
different purposes rather than using all kinds
of different divisions of upper case, lower and
upper case, upper case bold, upper case
italic, and so on and so forth. All that doesn't
really help, and it's bad visually.
Of course, we also made the same
improvement in all the tables. It's amazing
how well this was implemented by the
Government Printing Office; we had really
great assistance from that side.
We thought that the existing binding was
fine, providing they used good colors. In the
past they used baby blue, baby pink,
government green, and so on and so forth.
Really, they got the most depressing colors
in the scheme. We told them they should use
colors with a little more character, like a good
brown, or gray, or red. The red they used is
not a great red, but it's what they have within
their range. They cannot use Champion
papers, because they can't afford to buy
them. Everything is on a competitive basis,
with the lowest price taking the bid, and at
the lowest price there never is a great range
of colors. Nevertheless, with certain criteria
ruling the decision, some good colors can be
0..' What kind of suggestions would you
make to editors or customers who want to
put in filler articles or something wherever
there is empty space?
A.: It's very difficult to control that. Of
course, my theory is that if there is nothing to
say, nothing should be said. But there are
people who have horror vacui — that means a
fear of empty spaces — and they have to fill
up every space or they can't sleep. Then
there are people like me, who are very
serene with nothingness. I adore my houses
empty, but my neighbors keep asking when
the furniture is going to come.
This publication is based on a presentation
made at the Second Studio Seminar for
Federal Graphic Designers held at the Illinois
Institute of Technology, November 10, 1976.
Studio seminars are sponsored by the
National Endowment for the Arts as a part of
the Federal Design Improvement Program.
The seminars give federal designers the
opportunity to keep abreast of the latest
techniques and methods in design and
communication, to solve problems, and to
exchange ideas. Participants include
designers and their supervisors,
photographers, illustrators, typographers,
editors, and printing officers.
For Sale by the Superintendent of Docunnents,
U.S. Government Printing Office,
Washington, D.C. 20402
Stock No. 036-000-00038-4